Todd Talks World Cup Draw with Tom and Sean

On April 1, countries that have qualified for the Men’s World Cup, through a draw, were placed into their respective groups for the Group Stage of the FIFA World Cup, which begins this November in Qatar.

World Cup groups

  • Group A: Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands
  • Group B: England, Iran, USA, Scotland/Ukraine or Wales
  • Group C: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland
  • Group D: France, Australia/UAE or Peru, Denmark, Tunisia
  • Group E: Spain, Costa Rica or New Zealand, Germany, Japan
  • Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia
  • Group G: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon
  • Group H: Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea

I decided I should see where my buddies and soccer experts Tom and Sean were on the Groups that were drawn, their strengths and weaknesses, and who they think most likely survive the Group Stage for elimination play in the Round of 16. Tom was first with some first-blush thoughts:

TOM:  Quick hit response – 

  1. The U.S. did pretty well but I think we were upset by Iran in 2014 possibly? England will go 3-0 so a win and draw may be enough. 
  2. Mexico and Canada both have a shot at advancing as well. Can they each get a result against Poland and Croatia?
  3. Group A is the weakest group. 
  4. Not sure there is a standout Group of Death?

TODD:  Interesting first takes, Tom. Let’s hope we can handle Iran in a country far closer to their fan base than our own. I think Mexico and Canada have tougher roads given the fact that their groups include, for Mexico — Poland and Argentina, though one shouldn’t simply think Poland is as good as Bayern Munich, where the team’s star competes in professional club soccer. Canada is playing incredibly well but is grouped with powerful Belgium and 2018 Finals contender Croatia.

Agree Group A’s results seem almost predetermined to have the Netherlands land at the top. The real question is who else emerges from Group A? Will Sadio Mane lead Senegal to the promised land? Or will the Ecuadorians give everything they’ve got? They are used to very strong continental competition of their own. I do relish the fact that no obvious “Group of Death” has emerged, though I would say Group F comes closest. 

What country (among otherwise normally competitive countries) would you guys say has the toughest road to the Round of 16?

SEAN: When it comes to the World Cup I often look at it through the lens of age. I remember a young James Rodriguez winning the golden boot with Colombia in 2014 or Kylian Mbappe dominating the tournament with France in 2018. With that in mind, I think teams like Belgium, Croatia, and Argentina may be vulnerable. They have aging stars that are past their prime. As they say, it is a young man’s game. Of course some of that may be, as a USMNT fan, wishful thinking. The U.S. is essentially bringing a U-23 squad to this World Cup.

From a U.S. perspective, my natural inclination after the draw was to worry about England’s recent success at the Euros and 2018 World Cup. Or Iran’s impressive performance during their qualifying campaign. Or Gareth Bale’s world-class ability, should Wales qualify. But ultimately that is the wrong mindset. The U.S. wants to and has the ability to change people’s perception of U.S. soccer. We’ve never had players playing at the highest level of club soccer (Barcelona, Juventus, Chelsea, Dortmund). But our qualifying campaign was lackluster and the coach is suspect. But at least we have a chance to test ourselves unlike in 2018.

Bring on the hype!

TODD:  Sean, that is a good point about older squads, though I still wouldn’t go to sleep on Belgium to save my life. Another aging squad is Mexico, who will need to play next-level soccer to advance from their group. 

The USMNT needs better, more consistent coaching. But ultimately they have to gel as a team after almost too many rosters starting together. We need to know by know which starting 11 are our compatible squad and who our immediate 3 substitutes are. Berhalter has failed at finalizing this cohesion in my opinion. 

Again I ask — who among the higher-ranked sides has a tough road to the Round of 16? Who has it easy (besides Netherlands)? Let’s boldly call who our surprise picks might be. Mine? Senegal to advance to the Round of 8. Boom!! 

TOM:  I liken the World Cup circa 2022 to the NCAA tournament maybe 10 years ago—you may see a number of “surprise” results, even in terms of who reaches the knockout stages, but as teams get a few games under the belt and find their rhythm, you will see the top sides rise to the top.  While the secondary European sides can be had on a given day by most teams in the field, France, England, Brazil feel like strong No. 1 seeds, with Spain, Belgium and Argentina looking like proverbial No. 2 seeds who are more vulnerable, but remain the betting favorites to make it to the quarterfinals/Elite 8. Without looking at the bracket and likely matchups (yet), I’d expect at least 5 of the QF spots to be filled by European sides. It’d be fantastic to see a team from Africa, Asia or CONCACAF surprise and join them. 

SEAN:  Seeing as there is no group of death one would expect all the best teams to advance rather easily. The group I feared was whichever one got Senegal from pot 3. But that ended up being group A with Qatar as the pot 1 team, so Senegal essentially became a de facto pot 2 team and should advance out of that group with the Netherlands. With that being said, the group that seems most up in the air to me is group H with Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea. If I had to pick one pot 1 team to not advance to the knockout rounds it would be Portugal. As for a potential sleeper team, I’m going to go with Canada. They looked great in qualifying, have a good coach and one of the best young players in the world in Alphonso Davies.

My question for you all is, is there any chance France suffers the former champion curse? The past three World Cup champions, (France, Germany and Spain) failed to get out of the group stage at the following World Cup.

TOM:  Great question. There are some similarities. 

Deschamps has been there 10 years now. Too long for any team in my view. Low had also been coaching Germany for 10 years (first 2 as a prominent assistant) when 2018 rolled around (Germany letting the nose picker stay through 2020 Euros in 2021 was criminal). Del Bosque had “only” been with Spain for 6 years in 2014, but after climbing the mountain for 3 straight trophies (2008 Euro, 2010 WC, 2012 Euro), with largely the same squad, Spain suffered from a different form of fatigue in 2014 (How Aragones and del Bosque knitted together a squad of Catalonia/Barca and Spanish/Madrid for so long is a minor miracle and something more knowledgeable persons have hopefully written about!). 

If Deschamps falls into the trap of playing old “reliable” players without creating competition within the squad where merit wins out, I believe France will suffer the same fate. But the depth and diversity of French talent should give Deschamps the tools to keep things fresh, and his players hungry, to be the first team to defend their title since Brazil 50 years ago. Deschamps should look to that Brazilian side for inspiration. 

Brazil had the courage to discard established stars in favor of a then unknown 17-year-old in 1958.  Pele went on to score 5 goals in the semifinals and finals and announce himself to the world. Brazil retained the Cup four years later when Garricha took over the creative reins in Pele’s absence to injury. He scored 4 in the quarters and semis to knock out an excellent English squad and hosts Chile. And 8 years later when Brazil won for a third time there was not a single player from Brazil’s epic 1970 team that had played in the 1962 finals. 

At some point we will need to get to the brackets and make our picks, but I’m curious where you guys rate Brazil’s 2022 squad and the other non-European squads chance of reaching the final 8. Who do you fancy?

TODD:  I love the coaching history, Tom!  Very interesting points and a lot to think about there. Personally, I love France and always root for them if the U.S. is out of it. I think they are still young and able enough to compete, though your coaching points are well-taken.

Sean, I actually agree with you on the Portugal elimination possibility and think it makes South Korea the team to watch in Group H. We all know Uruguay is a powerhouse. So IF South Korea can beat Ghana (no guarantee by any means) and draw with Portugal, it could be interesting. May even be a Group decided on goal differential if there are a number of draws.

As to Tom’s question of the Brazil side, I think they are the most dangerous team in the tournament, and I definitely see them in the Round of 8. I mean – Neymar, Richarlison, Coutinho, Firmino, and so many other guys, I can’t imagine them not being in the conversation throughout.

But perhaps I shouldn’t get too ahead of myself. Why don’t we close by naming our Round of 16, and use the following scoring system:

  • 1 point for picking a team that makes the Round of 16
  • 2 points for picking a team in the right order of finish in Group play

Here I go – and you’ll note I take some real chances with Poland, Costa Rica, Ghana, and to a small degree Cameroon.

  • Group A:  1. Netherlands 2. Senegal
  • Group B:  1. England 2. USA
  • Group C:  1. Poland 2. Argentina
  • Group D:  1. France 2. Denmark
  • Group E:  1. Germany 2. Costa Rica
  • Group F:  1. Belgium 2. Canada
  • Group G:  1. Brazil 2. Cameroon
  • Group H:  1. Uruguay 2. Ghana

SEAN: OK, here goes. My round of 16

  • Group A:  1. Senegal 2. Netherlands
  • Group B:  1. England 2. USA
  • Group C:  1. Argentina 2. Poland
  • Group D:  1. France 2. Denmark
  • Group E:  1. Germany 2. Spain
  • Group F:  1. Belgium 2. Canada
  • Group G:  1. Brazil 2. Switzerland
  • Group H:  1. Uruguay 2. Portugal

TOM: My bracket is very similar with one notable exception. Call this the Zach Steffen Reality Check Bracket:

  • Group A: 1. Netherlands 2. Senegal
  • Group B: 1. England 2. Wales/Scotland/Ukraine
  • Group C: 1. Argentina 2. Mexico
  • Group D: 1. France 2. Denmark
  • Group E: 1. Spain 2. Japan
  • Group F: 1. Belgium 2. Canada
  • Group G: 1. Brazil 2. Switzerland 
  • Group H: 1. Portugal 2. South Korea

TODD: Well, there you have it, folks. Tom apparently hates America. I’m kidding, and Tom you lately aren’t wrong about goalie Zach Steffen. Kudos for not letting patriotism cloud your choices. Sean’s selections feel the safest, but I’m hoping my surprise picks come through.

See you fellas as we get closer to World Cup time!


  1. A. 1 Netherlands 2 Ecuador
    B 1 USA 2 England
    C 1 Argentina 2 Poland
    D 1 Denmark 2 France
    E 1 Germany 2 Spain
    F 1 Belgium 2 Morocco
    G 1 Brazil 2 Switzerland
    H 1 Uruguay 2 South Korea

  2. Group A: 1. Netherlands 2. Senegal
    Group B: 1. England 2. USA
    Group C: 1. Argentina 2. Poland
    Group D: 1. France 2. Denmark
    Group E: 1. Germany 2. Spain
    Group F: 1. Belgium 2. Croatia
    Group G: 1. Brazil 2. Serbia
    Group H: 1. Portugal 2. Uruguay

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